Some entrepreneurs create companies to tackle a challenge they have faced in their own lives. Ballbox Founder and CEO Alexander Hejazi, for instance, moved to Chicago after college with all the essentials but didn’t have the items he wanted to use at the beach. While he lacked a beach blanket, football or chairs, he saw how easy and accessible it was “to get a bike and get anywhere in the city,” he told PYMNTS in an interview. Hejazi thought there needed to be a similar offering for sport, tech and leisure items.
Hejazi ended up starting Ballbox, which is a locker kiosk network that offers access to sport, tech and leisure equipment at parks, beaches, hotels and apartments. The company aims to revolutionize how people access goods, “similar to what Redbox did with movies,” Hejazi said. The goal is to provide access to a variety of products that people don’t necessarily need to purchase. (For instance, it might not make sense to keep, store and maintain costly camping equipment.) Ballbox offers individual items and products in packages through the kiosks.
Consumers can choose to either rent or return. If they rent, they can sign up as new users if they haven’t used the kiosk before. Users are only required to enter their full name, phone number and a four-digit PIN. They will then be sent to a different page that shows a list the kiosk’s products depending on the location of the machine.
Once consumers choose their items, they can choose to rent hourly or purchase a day pass. Users can then check out using a credit card to gain access to the item. After checking out, consumers also receive instructions on how to assemble or use the product. They also have the option to purchase a borrowed item when the rental period is over.
The concept serves as an experiential marketing avenue for product manufacturers and retailers. By placing their products in the kiosks, they are gaining “exposure to customers they may have never targeted,” Hejazi noted.
Ballbox is focusing on apartments and hotels to extend its presence, sharing the operational burden to help with maintenance. These companies receive an amenity they can then pass on to their guests or residents.
The company recently opened a location at North Avenue Beach in Chicago. It also has a site in Fort Lauderdale at Beach Place Gallery and is opening a third kiosk at an apartment complex in Denver.
The Automated Retail Market
The vending and unattended retail space is taking off. According to the PYMNTS Automated Retail Tracker, the projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the global automated retail market from 2019 to 2024 is 11 percent. The report also found that 35 percent of surveyed U.S. air travelers are interested in self-checkout retail at airports. “Vending machines – long the storehouse of candy bars and soda – are being adapted to provide everything from fresh meat to over-the-counter medicine,” the report noted.
Beyond Ballbox, other digital innovators are turning to automated retail for other purposes. Alpaca Market offers a network of vending machines and smart fridges in Austin, Texas to bring nutrient-dense meal options into buildings. Founder and CEO Joe Kerby told PYMNTS in a past interview that the company serves places “where you find yourself working, living [and] playing.”
For Alpaca Market, those environments include office buildings, gyms and apartments – “places you would find yourself throughout the day with limited food options,” Kerby said. Consumers can use the digital touchscreen on the vending machines to browse the menu and see nutritional facts, ingredients and pictures of the food.
From Alpaca Market to Ballbox, digital disruptors are bringing convenience to consumers for products ranging from food to sporting goods with the help of automated retail.